Matt Hancock has revealed that over 100,000 people a day were contracting coronavirus at the peak of the pandemic in April.
On the day that the government’s tracing app finally launched after months of delays, the health secretary said that the true figures of people coming down with the virus were far higher than official figures suggest.
Speaking to Sky News, he said: “The massive testing capability we’ve got helps to find where the virus is so, if you think about it, yesterday we had a figure that there is over 6,000 people who have tested positive in the previous 24 hours.
“And that is comparable to the highest levels in the peak in terms of the number of people who were tested positive but back then we estimate through surveys that over 100,000 people a day were catching the disease, but we only found around 6,000 of them and they tested positive.”
Hancock said that the government estimates that “under 10,000” people are currently getting the disease every day – and that mass testing found over 6,000 of them.
He added: “That then allows us to do the contact tracing for everyone who has tested positive and find who they’ve been in contact with.
“In addition, today with the app, if you download the app you will also have that added protection for you and your loved ones.”
Yahoo News UK has contacted the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) to seek clarification on the figures.
The rollout of the app follows months of delay and questions about its effectiveness in the face of mixed results from other countries which have already deployed such apps.
It comes at a critical time for the UK, with confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the rise daily.
“We are at a tipping point in our efforts to control the spread of this virus,” said Hancock.
“With infection rates rising we must use every tool at our disposal to prevent transmission, including the latest technology.
“We have worked extensively with tech companies, international partners, and privacy and medical experts – and learned from the trials – to develop an app that is secure, simple to use and will help keep our country safe.
“Today’s launch marks an important step forward in our fight against this invisible killer and I urge everyone who can to download and use the app to protect themselves and their loved ones.”
The latest version of the app was piloted among residents of the Isle of Wight and the Newham as well as NHS volunteers from mid-August, after the first app was marred by technical issues and eventually scrapped.
As the software is voluntary, its success will also depend heavily on how many people choose to download and use it.
An advertising campaign to promote the app will appear on television this evening with the strapline, “Protect your loved ones. Get the app”.